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A tradition of life

I am sure you have had the experience of telling a joke where the execution and timing have been rather good – and yet one or more of your friends in the group that surrounds you just don’t get the point. Perhaps you have also had the similar experience of hearing a joke and while other roar with laughter you just don’t get it. At all. Now, someone could attempt to explain what the significance of some key word or missing concept that prevents you or others from understanding why the joke is so funny – but that is far from ideal. We seem to have a very similar situation in the Gospel today – although not nearly so funny as that well executed joke. The fact that Mark takes so much time to clue his audience into the scene, providing ample additional explanatory notes and asides to them and us, is the main reason that we know that the people that Mark was writing this Gospel to were not Jewish. A Jewish audience would not need to know that they have a bit of a thing – an obsession some might say – with washing hands, dishes and pots. They knew this from their very earliest days. It was just one of those things that you did as a Jew. We might not even think twice about the good and sensible advice of ensuring your hands are clean before eating – surely our mothers told us this many times when we came into the table from playing in the backyard with the dog – but this was not...

Submission to the Messiah

The Gospel this Sunday concludes our readings from John 6 where Jesus now addresses himself only to his disciples, rather than to the whole crowd. We hear that many of his disciples draw back and grumble and complain about the teaching of Jesus. Not because they could not understand what he is saying, but because what he is saying completely upended their whole world-view. If everything that you’ve ever been taught to believe has just been demolished, and you are being forced to think about the world in a whole new way – many people will just politely excuse themselves and never return to listen to the message again. A few weeks ago we heard in Exodus 15 about the Hebrew people grumbling in the wilderness out of hunger. The disciples who grumbled then are like those who grumble now that we should only be interested in the spiritual truth that the gospels present. The whole of the Gospel of John is about the Word becoming flesh – not the Word becoming only an idea, or a spirituality, a feeling or an experience. Part of what John is telling us is that history matters; the actual story of Jesus matters. Verses 62 and 63 remind us that the flesh by itself is of no value; but when the flesh is indwelt by the life and spirit of God than anyone who eats this flesh is able to be as equally at home in both earth and heaven – just as Jesus as the Word of God is and was. We are urged to go beyond a one-dimensional and basic...

Flesh and Blood

The Gospel this Sunday once again from John 6 presents a most remarkable promise: anyone who eats his body and drinks his blood will live forever. Jesus will raise us up on the last day. One of the reasons that this is so remarkable is that one of the best known prohibitions in the Jewish regulations about food and drink is that blood was absolutely forbidden. The very complex system of kosher butchering has the primary aim of ensuring that no blood should stay in the animal to avoid any blood being eaten or drunk. The fact that Jesus tells his listeners that they should eat his flesh and drink his blood in this setting gives us important clues. Clearly he does not intend that those who follow him should become cannibals nor that in eating and drinking him should followers of Jesus break the Jewish law against consuming blood. Jesus, as the true Messiah is not only going to put his own life at risk, he will actually lose it so that his followers will profit from that death. They will ‘drink his blood.’ They will have their ultimate thirst quenched by his death and resurrection. It should also be clear that what Jesus means is so much more than a merely spiritual eating and drinking whereby we only think about these things in an inner, non-physical meditation. Such things are important, but the language that John uses in this gospel force us to conclude that actual physical eating and drinking is involved. The word for eat is a solidly physical one, meaning something like ‘chew’ or ‘munch’...

Awakening to the rhythm of life

The prophet Elijah should have been at the very peak of his game. He marched dramatically onto the pages of history at the beginning of I Kings 17 with a whole series of mighty deeds that he performs that already sets him apart from the ordinary run-of-the-mill followers of God. These deeds reach their crescendo in the confrontation (and slaughter) of the 450 prophets of Ba’al, followed by the ending of the three-and-a-half year drought at the word of his command. But when the evil Queen Jezebel sends him a threatening message, promising to kill him, that is enough for this mighty warrior prophet to turn and run as far and as fast as his little legs would carry him. It is implied that he runs the length of the nation of Israel – from Mount Carmel in the north to Beersheba in the southern kingdom of Judah in the space of a single day – the best part of a hundred kms. And then he leaves his servant there and continues for another whole day further into the wilderness until he ends up lying in a heap under the only shade he could find – the gnarled branches of a brush tree. It’s no wonder that he is somewhat tired when we find him. It is all he can do at the prompting of the messenger of the Lord to awaken to eat and drink – before falling back asleep again. His life was out of rhythm. Like ours sometimes. Part of the purpose of our lives is to recognise when things have gone astray and allow ourselves...

God is always enough

18B – Bread of life (John 6:24-35John 6:24-35English: World English Bible - WEB24 When the multitude therefore saw that Jesus wasn’t there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats, and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly I tell you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has sealed him.” 28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 They said therefore to him, “What then do you do for a sign, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven Greek and Hebrew use the same word for “heaven”, “the heavens”, “the sky”, and “the air”. to eat.’” 32 Jesus therefore said to them, “Most assuredly, I tell you, it wasn’t Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 They said therefore to him, “Lord, always give us...

Sharing with open hands

This year we have been reading from the Gospel of Mark. Last week we had the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing over the lake and coming to find a large crowd of people, which he set out to teach at some length. Rather than continuing the story from Mark, we interrupt the story and change to have an extended reading from the Gospel of John, so that we have his unique perspective. John’s gospel was written much later than the other gospels, probably late in the first century. You have this deeply reflective, theological and spiritual understanding of Jesus and the mysteries of the Church. One of the curiosities of John’s Gospel is that when you go to the Last Supper with John, there is no mention of Jesus blessing the bread; of Jesus taking the cup and telling the disciples that this is my blood. We can wonder – why aren’t what we call the Institution Narratives – the story of the institution of the Eucharist mentioned in John’s Gospel? It is because it is here, in this sixth chapter of St John. I invite you as we journey through this magnificent chapter over the next five weeks to take the time to prayerfully and slowly read through the chapter. Take the time to ponder these majestic words and allow them to sink deeply into our spirit. Here in this Gospel, one of the things we must remember is that nothing ever happens by chance. Every word is carefully chosen to drive home this deep symbolic and rich meaning. The gospel begins with Jesus and his...

Apostles breaking down barriers

We meet the disciples of Jesus today as they return from their missionary journeys where they went out in pairs to not only proclaim the message of salvation but they were also tasked to heal the sick and bring release to those bound with evil spirits. They return no longer as disciples – but they are now called for the first time ‘apostles’ – that is ones that are sent. Seeing how tired and stressed they are, Jesus invites them to go across the lake to a wilderness area (eremos topos) – the same phrase that is used to describe the wilderness that Jesus spent the forty days at the beginning of the Gospel. But when they cross the lake they find the even larger crowd has hurried even more than they did and are waiting for them when they step ashore. Jesus models the ministry of shepherd by having compassion on the crowd and he sets about to teach them at some length. (So a long homily is a sign of the preacher’s compassion on the crowds.) Paul also offers us an insight into the ministry of the shepherd by describing the alienation that his audience used to live in – they were both spiritually and physically excluded from the life of the Jewish people by the commandments of Moses and the wall that surrounded the inner courts in the Jerusalem temple which bore an inscription which warned any Gentiles (in Greek) that if they entered into the inner courts they should prepare to die. Sorry about that. What happens in the life and death of Jesus is...

Anakephalaiosasthai – recapitulating all things in Christ

It quickly becomes clear that Jesus never intended the new movement of the Lord that he established to begin and end with him. Once the disciples are able, he send them out as well. Not only to tell people about the name and work of Jesus – like so many others who were recipients of the mighty work of God must already have been doing – but also to act and speak with his power and authority which included casting out demons and healing the sick. We see here the future ministry of the church beginning to be experienced and lived by the first followers of Jesus. When they later reflected upon this ministry, they began to realise that all the many things that they were living and experiencing had their meaning and purpose in the Anointed and Risen One – Jesus. This is the central theme in the ecstatic prayer that Paul uses to begin this new letter which we will journey with over the next seven weeks – the letter to the church in Ephesus. At the highpoint of this great prayer of blessing, Paul makes a utterly bold claim and declaration – that God planned to bring unity to all thing in and through Christ the head. The unusual word that he uses to make this point is only used here and again (with a very different meaning) in Romans 13:9Romans 13:9English: World English Bible - WEB9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not give false testimony,” “You shall not covet,” TR adds “You shall not give false...

Grace, power and weakness

Any truly compelling story always seems to have one common element: just as the protagonist or hero of the story is nearing their goal – whether it is true love, destined position or treasure – some major setback interrupts everything and this hurdle needs to be overcome before we can reach the conclusion, and everyone lives happily ever after as the credits roll. This is not just in Hollywood films but also it seems in many saints lives. For example, it was only after the death of (Mother) Teresa of Kolkata that her diaries revealed the extent of personal darkness that she experienced in prayer and her difficulties to continue to believe. The writings of St Therese of Lisieux show a similar depression and darkness in her final years. We can surmise that what St Paul reveals in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians 12:7-102 Corinthians 12:7-10English: World English Bible - WEB7 By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, that I should not be exalted excessively. 8 Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.WP-Bible plugin was a similar hurdle...

Arise from the sleep of death.

Death was not God’s doing. So how do we make sense of death and how the Christian should approach this stark reality? How should we respond to our natural instinctual and evolutionary reaction to fear death? The teaching that the book of Wisdom offers and which is then magnified by Jesus in these two tightly woven stories of healing and new life – the woman with the twelve-year haemorrhage and the twelve-year old sick then dead daughter of the synagogue official Jairus. The words that Jesus offers to Jairus perhaps need to be spoken also into our own lives – Talitha kum – “little child, I say to you arise” from the sleep of death. Play MP3 Sunday 13, year B. Recorded at St Col’s, Corrimal (8 mins) Mark 5: 21-43Mark 5: 21-43English: World English Bible - WEB21 When Jesus had crossed back over in the boat to the other side, a great multitude was gathered to him; and he was by the sea. 22 Behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, came; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, 23 and begged him much, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Please come and lay your hands on her, that she may be made healthy, and live.” 24 He went with him, and a great multitude followed him, and they pressed upon him on all sides. 25 A certain woman, who had an issue of blood for twelve years, 26 and had suffered many things by many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better, but rather grew worse, 27 having heard the things concerning Jesus, came up behind...

A storm-tossed life

Ancient people were always deeply afraid of travelling by sea. This is especially so because of the primitive ships that they had to travel in – the wise sailors would hug the shore as much as possible. In Genesis 1, God creates order from the ‘toho va bohu’ – the dark depths of the ocean and chaos. In Exodus 14, the people fleeing from the slavery of Pharaoh find liberation only to come face-to-face with the dark depths of the impenetrable sea that blocks their way until the Lord intervenes and uses a mighty wind to drive back the dark depths of the water and leads them through on newly created dry ground. The sea comes to symbolise all that is evil and dark. In the book of Daniel, the sea is the place where the monsters come from. Our Psalm today as well as a number of others speak of the creator God who calms the sea, who brings order to the chaos, telling the raging storms to quieten down. Sometimes life can become too much for us or for those who are close to us. It can seem like we are in a small boat that is being tossed about on the waves. Sometimes the storms that arise are like the one in the gospel today – sudden and unexpected. Sometimes the storms have always been there. Sometimes they have been brewing and building for untold ages and we cannot remember a time when they were not there! In our first reading we have part of the Lord’s response to Job. Job has endured a terrible storm –...

Growth in a season of growth

After fifteen weeks of journeying through the seasons of Lent and Easter, we return today to what is often prosaically called “Ordinary Time” but which I prefer to call the Season of Growth or the Season of Discipleship. In the Gospel today from Mark we are reminded of this when Jesus tells two of his familiar parables about seeds, soil and growth. Even when the beginnings are so small as to be almost hidden there is one thing that is always certain – at least in the economy of God’s life – and that is a rich harvest. The farmer scatters the seeds on the ground and night and day the seed sprouts and grows. This doesn’t mean that we should just sit back and allow God to do all the work! No, the image of a certain harvest promises that even when our efforts to announce the goodness of God’s kingdom may appear to be fruitless or insignificant, we should not be discouraged or give up. Despite the church buying into the modern obsession with statistics, the only evidence of success that we need is that the harvest will arrive. In a similar way the parable of the mustard seed reminds us that kingdom is not about the huge and flashy greatness that other kingdoms attempt to build for themselves. The mustard bush is enough to provide shade for the birds of the sky. In our more sophisticated experience of church, it can be tempting to imagine that we have to be success-driven and strive for the great and mighty events and seek power and influence. These parables...

Discovering the breadth and depth of God’s love for the saints

The scriptures given to us today for the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus take us to the very centre of our faith and our relationship with God revealed in and through Jesus. The gospel ends with the declaration in the Gospel of John  that we will look on the one whom they have pierced. It is in this moment, when we are lost in wonder, that we can begin to discover the very nature of who we are before God – even if we are the least of the saints as Paul describes himself as. Play MP3 Recorded at a school Mass with St Columbkille’s Catholic Primary School. Hos 11:1Hos 11:1English: World English Bible - WEB11 1 “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, And called my son out of Egypt.WP-Bible plugin, 3–4, 8c–9; Eph 3:8Eph 3:8English: World English Bible - WEB8 To me, the very least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,WP-Bible plugin–12, 14–19; Jn 19:31Jn 19:31English: World English Bible - WEB31 Therefore the Jews, because it was the Preparation Day, so that the bodies wouldn’t remain on the cross on the Sabbath , asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.WP-Bible...

The good gift of the body broken

On the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we really should begin by re-enacting the Exodus reading – it would be a great sight to haul in a few young bullocks, slaughter them, drain all the blood into huge bowls and then begin splashing one bowl all over the altar and then the second one all over the community gathered in their Sunday best. At least you would remember that day when you renewed the covenant and destroyed your dress. But we’ll just reflect about the ongoing significance of the Eucharist for our lives. Let’s begin with the word. We probably know that the word comes as a transliteration from the Greek language (rather than a translation) and we probably know that the word can mean thanksgiving. Another translation is from looking at the parts of the word: ‘eu’ means ‘good’, and ‘charis’ means ‘grace’ or ‘gift’ – so you could also talk about Eucharist as a ‘good gift’. Play MP3 Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil Mass; Sunday morning didn’t work) The Body and Blood of Jesus, Year...

The Trinity and Gay Marriage

On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the heart of our faith – an encounter with a God of love. The Trinity has often been described using images that in the end always limp and fail to capture the glory and sublime beauty of a doctrine that is only able to be encountered in prayer, rather than described by theology. The divine dance between the three persons of the Trinity is capable of holding and sustaining every one of us, as we share in this call to be loved and share that love with others. Perhaps on a Sunday when we celebrate the experience of love at the heart of God, it is proper to reflect on another love that is in the news with the results of the referendum in Ireland and the new private members bill by the leader of the Opposition to legislate for so-called Gay Marriage. In response, the Australian Bishops have released a document (available on the parish website). It is a good document, but like the public sentiment that it is responding to, the arguments are not deeply convincing. Because we have ostracised anyone who is different and actively discriminated against certain people – whether that difference relates to skin colour, gender, nationality, religion, size, shape, height, weight, dominant hand, looks, wealth, and of course by sexual orientation – for so long, the debate has centred around questions of equality, fairness and discrimination. As much as the church attempts to argue that this is not a case of discrimination, the fact that this is where the debate has (wrongly) landed the church in arguing for...
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